Turning Your Degree Into a Career

Courtney Guggenberger
Turning Your Degree Into a Career

Are you about to graduate from college? Have you recently graduated? Are you asking yourself, "I've got my degree, now what?"

You have probably heard from multiple sources—friends, family, professors, news outlets—that due to the economy, the job market is less than ideal. What does that mean for you? That means finding job openings, landing interviews, and getting job offers will be rather difficult and often frustrating.

Searching for a job is practically a job in itself, so to make that process more painless, you need to learn how to use the skills and knowledge you gained in college to help you start your career. You have your degree, so it is time to start making it work for you and help you in your job search.

It may not come as a surprise to you, but many degrees do not set students up for specific jobs. Unless you are earning or have earned your degree in a very specific field, you have many options as far as you career choice goes. This means that half the battle is deciding what you actually want to do.

Once you determine a few ideal positions, star searching for job openings. You may not find anything right away, so you need to be prepared to look for part-time jobs or internships that will serve as stepping stones on your career path. These positions typically will not offer much in the way of pay or benefits, but the experiences, skills, and connections you gain will further your goals and will build your resume.

For many, this process may take some time, but if you understand how to successfully turn your degree into a career, then the process will be worthwhile in the long run.

Choosing a Career Path

For many students, your major and your degree are going to prepare you for a wide range of job opportunities. Choosing the right career path is not as simple as saying, "I want to do this." Instead, you need to consider all of your options and really think about what you are qualified for and what you want to do. In order to help you decide on your career path.

Here are some helpful tips: 

  • Interests: As you were studying in college, you no doubt developed new interests, hobbies, and passions. These are great indicators of what type of career path you should pursue. For example, if one of your interests is writing, then perhaps you should pursue a career in professional writing or editing. Or maybe you really enjoyed serving as treasurer and event coordinator for a club. Those interests could translate into work with a foundation or in development with a non-profit.
  • Skills: When you combine your interests with the skills you have developed over the last few years, you will be able to decide more appropriately what type of career to pursue. With skills like critical thinking, researching, and communication, the possibilities for your career are almost endless.
  • Specialization: For some students and graduates, your career path may be a little more proscribed, depending upon your degree. For instance, if you have studied information technology or systems, then you will most likely be entering the career of IT or IS. That is not to say your specific job has been chosen, but you are much more likely to enter that industry or career field.

Finding the Right Job

A career is not always the same as a job. Most people think of a career as long-term, more specialized, as the fulfillment of ambition, and/or as a vocation. A job is more often seen in the short-term, as a means to earn money, and does not always require highly specialized skills. You can work a job to begin your career, of course.

So, as you begin thinking about what you want to do within a career field, here are some things to think about while finding the right job.

  • Company: What kind of company or organization do you want to work for? What kind of environment do you want to work in? Before you apply for a job, you should read the company's mission statement to get a feel for who they are, what they do, and what the values of the company are. Do you agree with their views? If the company in question works with a number of clients, research those clients and think about whether you would enjoy working with them. Your first job after college is not necessarily going to provide you totally fulfillment, but you can try to find a company with which you will gel.
  • Compensation: After you graduate, you will have bills, other expenses, and loans to pay off. Even if you move back in with your parents, you need a job that will offer you something in the way of payment. Remember that you will not be earning an amazing salary right away. In fact, you might find that this first job leaves you under-employed. This is fine, as long as you are able to live off of the wages you are provided.
  • Hours: Another thing you need to consider as you are looking for a job is the number of hours the position requires and whether you are able to work those hours. For some, your first job may be low-level, part-time, or even an internship, which means the hours may be a little different than the standard 9AM to 5PM position.
  • Benefits: As you look for jobs, keep an eye out for the benefits that each position offers. You might have your sights set on lots of vacation time, premium insurance plans, and a great 401k plan. However, you need to know that because this is your first job after graduation that you may not have the best benefits, but that does not mean you need to settle for no benefits at all.
  • Location: Something else you need to consider as you are looking at potential jobs is the location of that job. Do you want to move away after graduation? Are you willing to move? Maybe you want to stay in the same location. If you have no desire to move, then you need to make sure that the jobs you apply for are where you currently live.

Make Your Degree Work For You

As a recent graduate or as someone who is preparing to graduate college, you may not have the most relevant work experience or any relevant work experience at all. But that does not mean that you are out of luck. Think about everything you did while you were in school. You managed your time, made decisions, coordinated projects or events, worked in groups, and participated in extracurricular activities.

All of these things gave you certain skills that are applicable to many jobs out there. You can make your degree and classroom experience work for you as you begin applying to different positions.

  • Teamwork Opportunities: As a student, you most likely had several opportunities to work in a team. While you may not have always enjoyed these opportunities, they prepared you to work with coworkers. In your interview, you can talk about your team experiences and how they will translate to the position you are applying for. Employers look for employees who are able to work in teams and can handle diversity in the workplace while promoting a safe and equal environment for all of their coworkers.
  • Taking Initiative: You already have a degree, or will have one soon, which shows that you are willing to take initiative and pursue something. It also shows that you follow through on your commitments. Employers want employees to take initiative and follow through; mature, responsible employees require less micromanaging and hand-holding.
  • Self-Motivation: No one completes their undergraduate studies without a level of self-motivation. Your work, involvement in extracurricular activities, and accomplishments will demonstrate your self-motivation. Employers value self-motivation because they want employees who will speak up, complete work in a timely fashion, and volunteer for projects and tasks. 
  • Organization: Another skill that you most likely developed while working for your degree was organization. No matter what you were studying, you most likely had to keep yourself organized in order to stay on track and to get your work done. This will show for itself when you are applying for jobs through your degree.
  • Critical Thinking: No matter what type of degree you have earned or will earn, you need to remember that one of the most important skills you have gained is critical thinking. This skill was honed as you wrote papers, analyzed texts, and engaged in classroom discussion. Critical thinking is something every employer will be looking for and will want in an employee.

No matter what career or job you decide to turn your degree into, it is important to remember that you may, at first, be taking an entry-level position. This is because those positions open up more frequently and are more suited to the experience and skills of recent graduates.

These are not undesirable positions. Your entry-level job gives you a foot in the door and will provide you with education, experience, and skills necessary to advance your career.

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